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The Great Egg Controversy: Healthy or Not?

April 26, 2013

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There are few foods more controversial than the incredible, edible egg. As real nutritional powerhouses, eggs are high in choline, which enhances brain function; the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which fight disease; and high-quality protein. There is even evidence that egg consumption may protect against breast cancer.

Yet eggs are also high in cholesterol, and for decades, doctors advised people to limit their egg consumption in order to prevent heart disease. But when research showed that dietary cholesterol impacts LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol far less than previously thought, the American Heart Association changed its tune in 2000. Current guidelines now allow for one egg a day for healthy adults.

New research further complicates the great egg controversy. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, researchers argue that eggs indeed contribute to heart disease – not because of cholesterol, but because of the way gut bacteria metabolizes certain nutrients in eggs.

The issue is with lecithin, the researchers say, which releases the chemical TMAO when digested in the intestines. Elevated levels of TMAO are linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. This news comes just two weeks after the same researchers suggested red meat may cause heart disease because it too is metabolized into TMAO by gut bacteria.

So does this mean you have to forego your favorite veggie omelets? Probably not. The science is still confusing enough on both sides that it’s impossible to make an unequivocal judgment that eggs are “good” or “bad.” Plenty of people enjoy eggs as part of a healthy, whole foods diet, regardless of what the latest study shows. Similarly, other people choose to go egg-free or vegan and thrive. It all comes down to your bio-individuality and what works best for your body.

Last year, when a study stated that egg yolks thicken arteries almost as severely as cigarette smoking, Integrative Nutrition visiting teacher Dr. David Katz unscrambled the findings. He deemed it bad egg science and criticized the methodology as faulty and misleading.

“I banished them from my own diet for roughly 20 years when the research evidence seemed to incline that way … but the hard-boiled results of research are what they are, and I don’t think eggs contribute to cardiac risk,” said Dr. Katz. “I have added eggs (organic, local, free-range) back into my own diet.”

What do you think of the egg controversy? Do you try to limit your egg consumption?